As we entered Peru via the worlds quietest boarder crossing we met Naz, a lawyer from Tottenham who was cruising around South America on his Royal Enfield. As you do. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about travelling in different corners of the world is the likelihood that you always meet somebody you have loose connections to. Examples of this so far on this trip are meeting people whom; you have mutual Facebook friends, were at the same wedding, got married with your aunts wedding company in Italy (lakegardaweddings.com if you’re interested), live less than two miles away from you back in London or are from Galway (everybody in Galway knows everybody).
Anyway, enough ramblings. This is where we have a confession. We got a bus. My family were due to visit in less than a month. When they booked the trip we wildly overestimated how fast we would be cycling through central america, as it happened we also stopped in Guatemala for three weeks studying Spanish so were hugely behind time. We knew at the back of our minds that unless some colossal tail winds suddenly appeared and we were cycling 200km days then a bus wold be necessary at some point. After asking a few cyclists heading north if they had to skip one part of South America which part would it be? North Peru was the unanimous answer. So there we are, for the second time this trip we ‘cheated’. We hauled ourselves and our bikes onto a reeeaalllly long bus journey and landed ourselves in Huancayo. This didn’t really sit well with either of us for a long time. It wasn’t until we met Tony from Manchester at a casa de cyclists in Cuzco who put it rather bluntly ‘If it’s your time and money going into this trip then you can do whatever the hell you like’. Yes, in a completely wonderful world we would have unlimited time and a bottomless pot of gold. If that were the case then I know deep down the two of us a stubborn enough to pedal every single meter. But we live in reality and have neither of those things. So for the rest of this trip we’ve made a pact, if it’s awful days upon days of nothing or if we’re not enjoying it we’re going to ‘cheat’ and take ourselves somewhere awesome to spend our dwindling time and money. In my heart I desperately hope there will be no more busses (unless it’s from Ushuaia heading North) I’m pretty sure Herbie feels the same way but if there is then so be it, I’ve made peace with myself.
So, Huancayo. 800 miles south of where we entered Peru and we find ourselves smack bang in the middle of the Andes. From here we were looking forward to some beautiful riding towards Cuzco which promised to ping pong us up and down between 1900m / 4500m for the next ten days or so. Every day we were met with beautiful landscapes, ferocious climbs, white knuckle descents (for me) and breathtaking camping spots. Even though we were roughly following the ‘main road’ there was such little traffic it was an absolute joy to cycle on. Without describing the highs and lows both literally and figuratively of each mountain pass I will only describe one which in particular stands out for me. Obviously it’s whingy (I’m British) but was completely my own fault. Here we go…
Having read a few blogs about the route we were taking, ok actually really only one blog. This guy who had been travelling a very similar speed to us declared that Abancay to Cuzco was two days riding. There were two mountain passes and the way to do it (avoiding camping at the bottom of the valley in the middle – LOTS of bitey sand flies) was to either have a short first day and long second or vice versa. The distance is a little under 200km so to us this seemed viable. We had planned on doing a long first day but as is usual Herbie and Loz fashion we ended up mega faffing in the morning and got chatting to a motorcycle tourist from Brazil meaning our planned early start went completely out the window. Anyway, we set off still optimistic about where we might get to that day and started climbing the first pass. It was rainy, there was lots of cloud, a shrine to where a bus had gone over the edge and tragically killed a lot of people and lots of stray dogs I fed biscuits to along the way. Descending the other side was like entering a different planet as the sun was shining and it was beautifully warm. On the descent we met an older gentleman swiss tourist coming up the other side, he was very pleasant but we quickly got the feeling he hadn’t spoken to anybody in a LONG time, especially when we found ourselves looking at pictures of his grand children. So, an hour passed and we were trying to escape in the most non rude way possible. Continuing on the descent we came across the last bigish town for a while where it was possible to get supplies, in we hopped to the local mercado still optimistic about continuing the days mileage, reaching the bottom of the valley and starting the climb up the next side. Then we met Uwe, a lovely German cycle tourist in town who was camping in a nearby farm. Twenty minutes or so chatting to him and we realised our planned ‘get the big day out of the way’ wasn’t really going to happen, we followed him and camped for the night having only covered 75km.
We did manage to leave early the next morning for the ‘big 120km’ day into Cuzco. We descend into the valley getting eaten by sandflies near the bottom and pedalled like hell to get up and out of insect range on the other side. When we reached the lunch spot we had ben riding for about three hours and were 800m ascent into the approx 2000m pass. Still, not too concerned as according to this guy’s blog Cuzco was reachable in two days, if anything we had been travelling faster than him so easy peasy. Now is where I start to be a bit of a princess. While in South america I had pretty much been avoiding eating meat, I’m not an enormous meat eater anyway and have gone through points in my life of being a veggie (just purely for taste reasons, I have no qualms about owning leather shoes or inheriting my great nan’s antique fur coat). We order our lunch and Herbies almuerzo arrives with a slab of meat, rice, vegetables and salad. Mine comes with a cup of rice and a few leaves of lettuce.
‘Do you want more food’ Herbie asks
‘No, I’m fine’
‘Seriously, we have another 1200m to climb, you need more’
‘Nope, I’m good’
We bought a couple of mini chocolate bars for the climb, inhaled one right away and decided to save the other as a reward for when we reached the top. Off we pedalled heading up up up over the last 4000m pass before Cusco. The sun was shining, it was super hot and the landscape was stunning. 300m ascent and I was feeling great, 500m ascent and I was getting a little bit peckish.
My brain starts to get in the way a little.. ’hmm, maybe i’ll just nibble the corner of my other chocolate bar…… actually I’m nearly halfway up, it’s ok if I eat half! then the other half at the top – winning!’
I must stress that this mini chocolate bar is actually a mini sublime bar, if you’re not familiar with these little packets of ecstasy it a bit like half a dairy milk.
Another 300m ascent and I’m starting to feel awful, ‘don’t bonk, don’t bonk, don’t bonk’ for the next 100m all I can hear is the half a sublime bar calling to me from my bar bag. I try to ration my brain, ‘ok I last ate the half a sublime 400m ago, I now have 400m until the top. If eat it now, I will definitely get to the top, then it’s all downhill. Yes, yes I will do that’
Before I know it the second half a sublime is gone, I don’t think I even tasted the chocolaty goodness, my hands and mouth were possessed and I gobbled it before I even knew what was happening.
‘Right Loz, you’ve cycled up a vertical mile today, you’ve had a cup of rice, some lettuce, two sublime bars and a bowl of porridge about eight hours ago. Oh and your bike weighs 80% of your own bodyweight. Only 400m ascent to go YOU GOT THIS!’
Only, I didn’t ‘got it’ It was 100% pure hell.
Herbie, firstly being exceptionally stronger than me and having had a proper lunch was way ahead. He was probably sat at the top right now, enjoying the view, having a beer and being serenaded by exotic dancers while unicorns galloped by. I was hauling my sorry ass up those last 400m, snarling and throwing imaginary daggers at every well meaning jeep who beeped encouragement as they drove by. I could imagine their conversations, ‘ohhh isn’t is so beautiful up here, so tranquil, oh look there’s a cyclist, woo you go girl -toot toot’ Meanwhile I was like ‘F&*% S*%$ W*&@ STOP AND GIVE ME A LIFT, YOU A%% %$££’
Nobody gave me a lift.
Somehow, I did haul myself up those last 400m. It took a while, I gave myself a lot of pep talks and shouted a lot of bad words, but I did. And when I did get to the top, Herbie was there, no beer, no exotic dancers, no unicorns. But he was stood waiting, freezing his ass off and holding out his sublime bar he saved for me. If that isn’t true love, then i’m not quite sure what is.
We didn’t make it to Cuzco that day, and when we finally found ourselves somewhere to sleep that night after eating a colossal amount of food we rechecked that guys blog. He did Cuzco in two days? Oh yes, and he also hitched a lift 800m up the mountain.
The next day we did make it to Cuzco and found ourselves in the little Casa de Ciclistas, we ended up staying for five days. Mostly eating croissants from next doors bakery, talking to two brilliant english couples, Tony and Sarah / Sarah and Freddy, (I’m very sure the other cycling couples are just as nice, but english is still our preferred language) and going on a date night where we put on our most posh clothes, i.e. the cleanest ones and headed out for wine and tapas.
While in Cuzco we made the decision not to visit Machu Picchu. I had visited four years previously on a backpacking trip and the cheapest we could find to get there was approx $80 each. I am sure if you were more bothered about getting there on the cheap you could spend a couple of days getting a bus, walking, donkey option but for us. I didn’t feel the need to spend $80 to go a second time, and Herbie, well as Tony said. ‘Our money, our time and our trip.’ sorry Machu Picchu.
We did however fancy a stroll up rainbow mountain and had been advised by Sarah and Freddy how to do it on the cheap. So on our way heading to Bolivia we took a little diversion up to Pitumarca. From there it was a 2am start to climb into the back of a workers truck and endure the 2hour drive up gravel roads to the bottom of the hike. We arrived about 4:30am and as the workers all clambered out to start setting up stalls and cooking for the imminently arriving tourists who begin to appear from 7am we were advised to stay in the bus until sunrise as it was ‘very very cold’. Now, we hadn’t gotten up at 2am for nothing. Neither did we fancy hanging around until all the bus loads of tourists started to arrive and hike up the mountain with another 500 people. So out we hopped, assuring the locals it was also ‘very very cold in our country too’ and started walking. It was still pitch black when we started and we had the absolute beauty of having the mountains completely to ourselves. The hike itself starts at about 4600m and the peak is a little over 5000m, it was glorious. As we were heading upwards the sun was starting to peak over the mountains and we had this eerie feeling of complete isolation in a stunning landscape. Getting closer to the top my tummy didn’t start to feel so good. I had had a bit of a ‘dose’ while in Cuzco but had been ok for a couple of days, maybe the altitude was getting to me? Luckily I had some loo roll and dove behind a rock for privacy. Even though nobody else was there apart from Herbie I still like to believe that Herbie doesn’t think I go for a number two. Girls don’t poop, they just let out little puffs of fairy dust, ok?! Anyway, it was fine. I felt a bit guilty for defecating on a beautiful landscape but hey, the llamas poop too.
Up we went and reached the top just after sunrise, there was not a soul in sight and apart from trying not to freeze our butts off it was one of the most magical places I have stood upon. In my opinion, although rainbow mountain takes a great picture it’s nothing compared to the snow capped beasts opposite. We had a 360 degree view of nothing but glorious mountains in every direction and not a soul in sight. We sat on the top drinking in the views and eating the breakfast we had brought with us. Very quickly after eating I realised that my earlier episode of bowl movements was not a one off. OH MY GOD, I need to poop! Now! We were on top of a mirador view point with nothing but sheer drops all around us. About 100m down the steps we had ascended a man had appeared and set up a little stall. Down the valley 500 tourists were steadily making their way up to us. There was nothing for it, nowhere to hide, I had two options; a) poop my pants b) gingerly descend the back of the mirador as far as I dare without falling and hope for the best. I chose option b, covered up my deposit with as much dirt as I could and tried not to fall off the mountain. Llamas poop here, llamas poop here, Loz poops here!
There you have it, every cycle tourist has a poop story and here is mine. At the top of one of the most photographed mountains in Peru where 500+ tourists treck every day, I did a number 2, sorry puff of fairy dust!